Antoine Lavoisier

The father of Mordan chemistry and Antoine-Laurent Lavoisier and his wife.

Antoine Lavoisier
Antoine-Laurent Lavoisier and his wife

Antoine-Laurent Lavoisier


Antoine-Laurent Lavoisier was one of the most meticulous experimenters who brought revolution in chemistry. The law of conservation of mass is his major contribution to chemistry. 

He was the one to determine the combustion and respiration happen in chemical reactions because of the element which he named “oxygen.” He also helped systematize chemical nomenclature.





Being a son of a rich Parisian lawyer, Lavoisier was advised to take the profession as their family tradition. Though he completed a law degree, his interest was always in science. He dedicated himself to his long-cherished passion after finishing his academic career. His earlier scientific works were on geology. The results of the works paved him the way to read the report to the Academy of Sciences. It was 1768 and at that time he was only 25. He also started working as a tax collector for the Ferme Générale, a private corporation collecting taxes on the basis of profit and loss for the Crown.  


Marie-Anne Pierrette Paul was a daughter of a tax-farmer like Lavoisier. He married her when he was a well-established tax collector. Young Madame Lavoisier started learning English in order to help her husband in his scientific researches. She started translating the works of British scientists such as Joseph Priestley. She also learned how to engrave and art. Marie used the skills to illustrate Antoine-Laurent’s scientific experiments. 


Gunpowder Development

The year 1775 came for Lavoisier with immense opportunity. The Royal Gunpowder and Saltpeter Administration appointed as a commissioner. For this reason, he started living in the Paris Arsenal. With some of the greatest assets there, Lavoisier built a nicely-equipped laboratory. The laboratory was nice enough to attract chemists from all over Europe. The lab became the place of communication, sharing ideas and eventually resulted in initiating the “Chemical Revolution.” When all these were happening, Lavoisier got success in creating an upgraded version of the gunpowder. To do it, he focused on the purity of saltpeter (potassium nitrate), sulfur, and charcoal. He also improved the techniques of granulating the powder.  


Promoting the Chemical Revolution

His chemistry was unique as it formed a systematic determination. It depicts that the weights of reagents and products (even if gaseous components) in any reaction produces a matter identified by the weight and is conserved through any reaction. It is the law of conservation of mass. 


He was the one to recognize a part of the air, oxygen (discovered by Priestley in 1774) causes combustion and respiration in any chemical reaction. Water is a great proof of composition and decomposition in a reaction that is made up of oxygen and hydrogen.


As the Chemical Revolution was going on at that time, he contributed to it by giving new names to substances. Some of them are still in use today. The names were granted for proving themselves revolutionary expressing the theory behind them. The meaning of oxygen is “acid-former” and it is a Greek word. This name indicates that it is the cause of the acidity of any substance. In his theory, Lavoisier proved oxygen as the acidifying principle. His research also allowed him to find out 33 substances that cannot break into simpler entities. Hence, he called them elements. These substances were caloric. The term caloric means that the possibly light substances are having unweighable heat causing expansion of others if added to the previous ones. His textbook “Traité élémentaire de Chimie” and journal “Annales de Chimie” propagate his ideas leading the way to exclusively show his research’ reports.     

Politics and death 

Being a political and social figure, Lavoisier had much influence on the French Revolution. Many reforms by him were introduced by him in his early years. The establishment of the metric system of weights and measures is one of them. But his role as a former farmer-general of taxes was the reason behind his death. After the French Revolution had finished, he was guillotined in 1794. The society did not consider his services to science and France. It was a great loss for science. The quote by Joseph-Louis Lagrange, a famous mathematician describes the loss by saying- “It took them only an instant to cut off that head, and a hundred years may not produce another like it.”